The burning question right now for retailers is, “will robots take over?”
The UK retailer, Marks & Spencer, answered yes to this question! They will soon be replacing their call center staff with an AI system. This will remove over 100 employees from the switchboard and place them in customer-facing roles in stores. Voice calls will be forwarded to the correct department or contact with 90% accuracy and the AI system will work with 640 stores. We should expect to see this in full action by end of September.
The company partnered with Twilio, who had already created a system for Marks & Spencer responding to a customer call and routing in the right direction. But now, the service will be much more than that. Through the Twilio Programmable SMS, there will be delivery status updates through text message. The concept took less than six months to launch and will let the store analyze customer intent in real time. This automation is extremely helpful considering the system can track over 12 million customer interactions annually.
“We were able to prototype a solution in just four weeks and put it to the test during our busiest retail days of the year. The new solution has given Marks & Spencer an improved ability to have more direct and meaningful conversations with our customers, which also helps us reallocate valuable staff time.” Chris McGrath
Will retailers go full time robot? Likely not. The team knows that there are some customers who still prefer human interaction. This request clearly cannot be ignored. A few years back, Morrisons, the largest chain of supermarkets in the US, went full time robot and quickly reverted back to to human cashiers. They realized customers truly did enjoy everyday interactions with people, seeing familiar faces and also receiving shopping assistance.
With the Marks & Spencer/Twilio collab, the store will be able to handle over 1 million inbound calls a MONTH! Twilio has a Speech Recognition tool which will also be used, so there will be a transcription of customer’s conversation into text. Marks & Spencer can also now analyze the voice in real time. With this system, a caller’s intent is also going to be determined. The company will use Google DialogFlow integration and figure out specifically why a customer is calling. And of course, routed calls will be extremely helpful in order to direct people to the right department, store or contact.